Leaders help Keetac mark the start of $150 million dollar DR pellet project

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A celebration at Keetac on Wednesday for their new DR grade pellet project.

It means a $150 million dollar investment for the plant. Plant manager Travis Kolari called it an exciting day.

U.S. Steel chose Keetac to make the DR grade pellets, which have a higher iron content than traditional pellets. They are a new product for U.S. Steel.

Mine manager Lukas Klemke shared that it’s going to be state of the art technology with a high intensity grinding mill that will be the first in North America used with iron ore.

CEO Dave Burritt spoke at the event. He told the group, “You know what our best competitive advantage is? It’s not a secret anymore. It’s our mining, our metallics.”

He also reference the pain that Keetac has felt, with indefinite shutdowns. “It levels out those peaks and valleys. This is the feedstock that is going to take down our carbon footprint, and create jobs through feast and famine.”

Governor Tim Walz and his commissioners were also on hand. So were vendors and suppliers.

The footings are in the ground, and the plan is to have the pellets rolling off the line in 2024. They will be able to adjust between traditional pellets or DR, which leaders said provides more stability for Keetac.

Before the event, steelworkers lined the streets of Keewatin with signs. They wanted Burritt to know how they feel, as negotiations for a new contract drag on.

Tawnya Gustafson, Vice President of Local 2660, told us that they are excited about the project. “But as far as timing goes, it doesn’t real pan out. We’re in a fight with U.S. Steel for a fair contract. We wish this could have been done before negotiations started, or after they were done, so we could be at the celebration.”

Steelworkers from the other mines also showed up as well.

Bob Zgonc is from Local 1938 at Minntac. “We want to support the steelworkers here. The DR pellet is good for the community and good for the Iron Range. But we also want a fair contract.”

And John Arbogast, from USW District 11, added, “It’s a bittersweet day. U.S. Steel has bad timing, since here we are under a contract extension, with the biggest investment in decades.”

Walz stopped to speak with the steelworkers before and after the event. Some lawmakers also stood with the group.